Friday, 15 June 2018

Orpington High Elms 10k 2018

The Orpington High Elms 10k race has been a regular fixture on the running calendar since 2014 and is hosted by Orpington Road Runners. If I was to describe this a standard hilly 10k trail race I'd be doing it a dis-service, in fact I think the race organisers have summed it up very well on their webpage, where they write...

"Designed by a sadist, the course is challenging and hilly, but very scenic to make up for it"

It takes place within the stunning grounds of High Elms Country Park which cover 250 acres of woodland and meadows. The history books show that William the Conqueror gave the estate to his half-brother Odo Bishop of Bayeux after the Norman Conquest. However it is the Lubbock banking family that really made their mark on High Elms building a grand mansion (sadly destroyed by fire in the 1960s) and various other listed buildings around the estate.


I had signed up for this race once before (2015, I think) but pulled out due to injury, so it's been on my to-do list for quite a few years. The race has a limit of 400 runners and I entered via the runbritain website which cost me £16 as I am currently unaffiliated. The race instructions arrived by email about a week before the event. On the day, car parking was available in an adjacent field and it was just a short walk into the country park from there.

Race numbers were available for collection in the race village, and this process was quick and easy. There were 6 portaloos onsite and these seemed to cope pretty well - I queued for just under 10 minutes. That left plenty of time to warm up and have a little chat with some of my running buddies. There was also a mass warm-up, but I've never been into those so I carried on jogging around until it finished.


The race started at 9.30am and off we all went, some knowing exactly what to expect, and others, like me, just imagining what lay ahead. The first of the hills is encountered after 300 metres and from that point, it is a relentless barrage of more hills, gnarly tree roots and uneven ground. Of course, as the saying goes 'what goes up, must come down', and it does, often via very steep declines. Some of them have sharp corners at the bottom too - however, all the key points were very well marshalled.

The headline section of the course is 'Pylon Hill' and it has a reputation for being very tough - it is reached at about 2.8km into the race, so the legs and lungs are still fairly fresh. However, it still takes a considerable effort to reach the top - my GPS picked up a maximum incline of around 16%. It lasts for about 350 metres or so.


The course features sections within the woods as well as out on the meadows - the paths in the woods are generally wide enough to overtake and most of the trip hazards were marked with white chalk. The meadows feature single track pathways with long grass to the sides which are more difficult to overtake on. There are six noteworthy hills to climb ranging from previously mentioned Pylon Hill through to a 1.3km long drag when approaching the same peak from the opposite direction.

I coped fairly well with the inclines, but the final one which ascends Old Hill really did me in. I had to take a brief walk towards the top of the steepest section. Just after this point I was assured that 'it's all downhill from here'.... well 600 metres later I finally reached the summit, and then it was all downhill through the woods and into the main open grass area to finally cross the finish line.


Being a June event, there is always the likelihood that it'll be on the warm side, and it certainly was in 2018. During the open meadow sections the sun was intense at times, which made getting back into the cooler woods a relief. The conditions underfoot were dry and firm, so many runners would have opted for road shoes. However, I always wear trail shoes when off-road and I was very happy in them all the way around the course.

I tracked the run with my Garmin and you can view the course data on my Strava account. You will notice that it shows as being a little short of the full 10k. Given the amount of tree cover and twisty paths in the woods, I'm not surprised that it hasn't recorded the full distance. And trust me, given how tough this course is, even if it was a little short, you probably wouldn't ask for it to be lengthened!


The official results were available later that day and I was pleased to see that I finished in 66th position out of 391 participants despite having a pretty rough few months health-wise. My overall time by chip was 48.03 (gun time 48.16) which fits in just about right with the general consensus that you should expect to be around five minutes slower than your current flat 10k time if you're towards the front end of the field. Those further back could be looking at an extra 10, 20 or even more minutes to complete the course vs their flat 10k times. For the record, the final participant came in at 1 hour and 40 minutes.

So, it was definitely challenging, hilly and scenic, just as promised and despite the gruelling hills, it was an absolute joy to take part - I'd certainly enter again. The 2018 race medal was a nice bespoke design that featured 5 acorns - one to represent each year that the race has been held. There was also a drawstring bag handed out to all runners at the end and this featured the line 'I survived Pylon Hill'. And I think I did, but only just.

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Sunday, 10 June 2018

Buckingham parkrun

Dating back to the 7th century, Buckingham was established in a naturally good defensive position in a loop of the River Great Ouse. Its name is said to come from 'Bucca' who was the leader of the first Anglo Saxon settlers - the literal translation of Buckingham is 'meadow of Bucca's people'. The river formed the border between the Saxons and the Danes and Buckingham changed hands many times over the years.

buckingham

In the 10th century Buckingham became the county town of Buckinghamshire - at this stage and for many years this was an important and prosperous place. It had its own mint producing silver pennies and in 1554 received its Royal Charter. In 2014 a metal detectorist found a huge coin hoard in a field just outside the town, it contained over 5,000 silver coins and is known as the Lenborough Hoard - it has recently been valued at £1.35 million.

In 1703 The first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby built a townhouse called Buckingham House in London which was acquired by King George III in 1761. A major enlargement project took place in the 19th century and it was renamed Buckingham Palace. It became the official residence of the Monarch in 1837. Whilst in Buckingham, the Duke would have resided in the magnificent Stowe House, which is now Grade I LIsted and owned by the National Trust.

parkrun briefing and start

Turning our attention back to Buckingham, the town was a major centre for a wide range of industries including tanning, candle making, goldsmiths and many more. However the good times didn't last, famine, a devastating fire in 1725 which destroyed about a third of its dwellings, and being hit extremely hard by the plague, the town had a final twist of the knife when, in the 18th century, it was replaced as the county town by Aylesbury.

Modern day Buckingham is a delightful historic town with many narrow windy streets, and despite the fire has a fine collection of historic buildings - Georgian architecture is widespread in the town and these buildings were built to replace those that suffered in the fire, but there are a fair number of older timber framed buildings still standing. A Gaol which was originally built in 1748 still stands and is now a museum.

opening stretch

The site of the original settlement now houses the University of Buckingham which is the only university independent of direct government support in the UK. The town itself has spread mostly to the north and west of that original settlement in the loop of the River Great Ouse and boasts a population of around 12,000 people. At time of writing it is also represented in Parliament by the current Speaker of the House of Commons.

I visited the town in June 2018 to take part in Buckingham parkrun which has been in operation since May 2014. Attendances have grown steadily in that time and at time of writing you'll probably find a field of just under 300 participants every Saturday morning. It takes place along the banks of the river and its route meanders around two different parks.

bourton park

Travelling to Buckingham by car is fairly simple and parking can be found in Cornwalls Meadow Car Park for a very reasonable 50p for up to three hours. It is just a couple of minutes away from the start area, which is located next to the Bridge Street Skate Park. Those who travel by bicycle are advised to use the bike racks at the local Waitrose supermarket. Toilet facilities can be found in the car park.

For anyone wishing to arrive by train, sadly this is no longer possible. When the railways were being built, the original plan for the London-Birmingham railway included Buckingham on its route. However the 2nd Duke of Buckinghamshire opposed this, fearing what would become of the town so the L&BR changed their plans. A number of years later, a branch line did run through the town and was fairly successful as a goods route. Sadly the passenger services were not very popular and the line was gradually closed down during the 1960s.

bourton park

So after parking the car and heading off for a quick jog around the town centre, I arrived at the Bridge Street Skate Park just in time to listen to the run briefing. After that, the day's participants were set off on their regular Saturday morning run. jog or walk around the picturesque riverside course. Underfoot is all tarmac, so road shoes are the way to go all year round. The course is mostly flat and fast, and perfectly fine for a spot of buggy running.

The course layout is that of a lollipop - the official description is 'you run out on the stick, lick the lollipop twice, and then run back along the stick'. Starting at the Skate Park, the course heads through the area known as Heartlands. Travelling to the north along the winding Buckingham Circular Walk path until at around 600m there is the first crossing of the river via a fairly wide bridge. This brings the route onto the Ouse Valley Way where it follows the course of the river.

bourton park

At around 1 kilometre into the run, the course enters Bourton Park and there are now two anti-clockwise laps of this park to complete (the sweet lollipop section). The paths generally meander left and right, which gives a great flow and is very enjoyable to run. The loop also includes a couple fo narrow bridges to cross. Once the two laps are complete, the route leaves this park and heads back along the outbound route all the way back to the Skate Park.

The whole route is flat except for the opening and closing 400 metres or so, where the paths gently passes over some very mild undulations. Once back at the Skate Park, barcode scanning is taken care of by the volunteers and once everyone is finished it's time for a spot of breakfast. Before heading off for breakfast, if you have run a PB you can have a quick ring on the PB Bell, which is great fun. The officially listed spot for post-run social is at the Gelateria Gazzeria where you can get some light refreshments.

finish [thanks to my wife for the photos of me finishing]

We chose to head into one of the local tearooms for a more substantial breakfast before spending some time exploring the town where we visited the Old Gaol (who have a small display of coins from the Lenborough Hoard) and The Chantry Chapel which is Buckingham's oldest building. We rounded the day off with a visit to Gelateria Gazzeria and I had some fantastic melon sorbet which I hear is made onsite.

The results for event 218 were published shortly after and 240 people took part. I recorded the run with my Garmin and uploaded the course to Strava, and as always I transferred that data to the Relive app on my phone where a course flyby video was generated. It had been a great morning out and I enjoyed my run very much especially the meandering paths. A huge thank you to all the volunteers.

scanning / pb bell / refreshments

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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

parkrun venues with people names

parkrun venues with people names (ie first names) in them - UK 5k events only.

I am aware of a few missing entries (every venue containing Ford, for example) - they should appear soon.

Albert
Ally Pally (Alexandra)
Alice Holt
Ashton Court
Barry Island
Bevendean Down
Brandon Country Park
Bury St Edmunds
Carrickfergus
Clair
Clare Castle
Crystal Palace
Ellenbrook Fields
Forest of Dean
Fort William
Kirkcaldy
Kirkwall
Lee on the Solent
Lincoln
Linford Wood
Lloyd
Markeaton
Normanby Hall
Peter Pan
Peterborough
Preston Park
Queen Elizabeth
Raphael
Rickmansworth
St. Andrews
St. Helens
Stevenage
Stewart
Victoria
Victoria Dock

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Great Denham parkrun

In the county of Bedfordshire, roughly two miles to the west of Bedford town centre is the historic village of Biddenham. The area to the south of the village is nestled within a natural curve of the River Great Ouse that has been known for centuries as The Biddenham Loop. The area has evidence of Neolithic, Roman and Saxon presence and sat right on the border of Danelaw and the Saxons during the 7th century. Apart from that it has been exclusively used as farmland with no further development...

great denham

... until The Bedford Golf Club came along and built its 18 hole golf course on part of the Biddenham Loop. The development also included a small number of detached houses known as the golf village - a fair amount of this housing is actually set within the golf course itself and the roads are named after the famous golf courses such as Carnoustie, St. Mellion, and Prestwick.

The Loop has now been renamed Great Denham, and despite trawling the internet for information I cannot find the exact reason for this name being used. I can see that the word Denham could have been extracted from Biddenham and the Great may have been borrowed from the adjacent river and added to distinguish itself from the historic village of Denham in Buckinghamshire. I'm going with that possibility for now, but if I manage to find any further information, I'll update this post.

country park / briefing

Great Denham was initially part of the Biddenham parish, but became a village and parish in its own right in April 2007. The continued development of the land includes in excess of a thousand new homes, a school, shops, doctor's surgery, a community hall and a sports pavilion complete with a series of pitches. During an archeological dig before the developments took place, archaeologists discovered the remains of a 5000 year old archer complete with an almost perfectly preserved ceramic striking plate.

The reason I had visited Great Denham was to visit the brand new Great Denham Country Park which like the rest of the village still has elements which are under construction.

start

The country park covers an area of 150 acres in the south east corner of the loop. It features open meadows as well as lakes and ponds, all designed to encourage biodiversity. So far the only completed amenities are the two playgrounds. A sports pavilion containing a cafe and toilets, and an onsite car park will follow in due course, so it is very much a work-in-progress. However, it does already have another fully-functioning feature and that is a free, weekly, timed 5km event called Great Denham parkrun.

I drove over to Great Denham on the first weekend in June 2018 and followed the parking instructions on Great Denham parkrun's course page, which meant I left the car in the Park and Ride car park just off Kingswood Way and jogged the remaining 800m or so over to the country park. There has been some conflict around parking as some people have not been following the instructions and have instead been parking on King Alfred Way - this has been causing problems for locals, so it is important that the instructions are adhered to.

ouse valley way

For anyone travelling by public transport, you'll find the nearest train station is in the centre of Bedford approximately 2 miles away - not bad for a warm-up jog, or if you don't fancy doing it on foot, buses 8, 11 and 24 will get you into Great Denham. At present there are no bespoke cycle racks in the country park, but I imagine there will be when the facilities are finished.

As I mentioned before, the toilets haven't been built yet, so I stopped off at a service station in Marston Moretaine, just 10 minutes outside Great Denham, to use their facilities. The meeting point for the parkrun is right next to the large playground in the grass amphitheatre. As far as the course goes, this is a flat, anti-clockwise, two-lapper with a combination of a compact sand/gravel and tarmac paths underfoot. Road shoes are the order of the day and the course is perfectly fine for a spot of buggy running.

ouse valley way

From the start the participants head south along the perfectly straight sandy/gravelly path for 200 metres until reaching the first corner which features quite a sharp left-hand turn.

The course now heads generally to the north with the open meadows of the country park on the left and a line of trees which form the boundary of the park on their right. This path is also part of the Ouse Valley Way, a 229 kilometre (142 miles) walking route between Syresham in Northamptonshire to Kings Lynn (my blog) in Norfolk.

second half of lap on tarmac

Towards the end of the path, those with a keen eye may spot the river through the trees. At the northern tip of the course, the route leaves the Ouse Valley Way and cuts through the centre of the park via a tarmac path before meandering along its northern border which eventually returns the participants to the playground and the long straight path where lap two begins.

At the end of lap two the finishing funnel along with a great team of volunteers will be set up on the grass. Barcode scanning takes place right next to the finish line and it's now time for a well-earned rest while cheering in the rest of the crowd, of course.

construction is still very much ongoing

I recorded the run with the Strava app on my phone (I forgot my Garmin) and uploaded the course. I also used this data to make a relive course flyby video. The results were processed and available online shortly after the run and I see that event 14 attracted 195 participants which was a little higher than the current average - this may have been due to Milton Keynes parkrun (my blog) being cancelled.

At the moment the team head over to The Eatery for the post-run social, but I imagine the onsite cafe will replace this venue once it is open. This is another fab parkrun venue, and along with Bedford parkrun (my blog), gives the residents of the Bedford area a second flat and fast option for local parkrunning. A huge thanks to the team of volunteers that made/make it all possible.

the final stretch

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Friday, 1 June 2018

Westminster Mile 2018

The Westminster Mile 2018 had the same setup as previous years. Namely a great race village in Green Park with all kinds of things to do and for us a kids area where my daughter always loves to have her face painted.

westminster mile 2018

Over the last few years I have run my own time trial while my wife and daughter would follow behind at their own pace. This year was a little different because we'd just had our second child and my wife wasn't taking part. So I entered me and my daughter into one of the family waves and we ran together.

Also a little different this year was the wave I entered - for the last few years I had run in the Sweatshop Running Community wave, however that wave has now been discontinued and while it was tempting to enter the parkrun wave instead, we stuck to one of the regular ones so we could leave enough time to catch the Monaco GP afterwards.

westminster mile 2018

Our wave start time was scheduled for 11.20am, so we headed over to the start line at 11.10am to ensure we wouldn't miss it. What I hadn't factored in was the fact that we were had a D in our race numbers and waves A-C would be set off before us.

The wait in the start pen was about 40 minutes, and by the time it came around to our wave starting we were very hot, thirsty and fed up. I could easily get over this, but it wasn't so easy for my daughter. So when we finally got sent on our way, she wasn't as enthusiastic as she was 40 minutes earlier. Couple that with people randomly stopping on the course and I could tell this wasn't going to be a good year.

westminster mile 2018 [photos: mameek / dani]

As we made our way through the half-way stage, I could see that she just wasn't into it anymore - the heat was too much and she just wanted to see her Nan, Grandad, Uncle and Cousin, who were waiting near the finish line. Fortunately the final 100 metres saw some enthusiasm return and she unleashed her mission impossible sprint finish.

After picking up our medals and goodie bags, we met up with the family and had some overpriced ice cream in the sun. An hour or so later and it was time to head off to watch the Formula 1, so we packed up our bags and left. It had been a great morning out, but sadly the run itself was a little disappointing.

westminster mile 2018

Our results were sent by text message the second we crossed the finish line, which was pretty cool. She got around the course in 12.04 which was slower than the previous year by 13 seconds. Not surprising given the situation. For me, it was nice to finally go around with her rather than busting my guts, so from that point of view it was good.


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